Dr Jacques Benveniste, the scientist who gave the world 'the memory of water', died on 3 October 2004, at the age of 69, yet another victim of modern medicine. As a teenager, he'd received repeated doses of 'therapeutic' X-rays, which had led to a narrowing of his aorta.
Last spring, he learned he had to undergo surgery to correct the problem. It all went horribly wrong and he died a few days later.
Benveniste became such a famous renegade that it's easy to forget that he once numbered among the elite of orthodox medical practice. A doctor of medicine, he'd become a specialist in allergy and inflammation. As research director of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) - the most prestigious organisation in all of France - he distinguished himself by discovering PAF, or platelet-activating factor, which is involved in allergies such as asthma. By the age of 50, Benveniste had received one of the most prestigious scientific honours in France. Rumour also had it that he was in line for a Nobel prize.
A tiny computation error by a lab technician launched him into the work that would change his life forever. During an allergy test, his technician recorded a reaction in white blood cells, even though she'd inadvertently diluted the solution to the point where scarcely any of the original antigen molecules remained. On repeating the experiment with further dilutions, Benveniste realised the technician had stumbled onto something worth investigating.
Benveniste himself knew that these 'memory of water' results went far beyond any theory of alternative medicine. If water could imprint and store information from molecules, our understanding of molecules and how they 'talk' to one another would have to change.
Benveniste attempted to tell the world about his explosive findings by publishing in Nature, the most prestigious scientific publication in the world. So sure was he of the portent of his discovery that he allowed a team of the journal's scientists to attempt to reproduce his data. But Nature editor John Maddox - in a step unprecedented in scientific history - gathered together a team of what Benveniste referred to as a 'scientific fraud squad' - a magician and a well-known quackbuster. This team insisted on changing the study design. When it didn't work, they claimed that the memory of water studies were a 'delusion'.
Nature's results had a devastating effect on Benveniste's reputation. INSERM censured his work and eventually closed his lab.
Benveniste had a few opportunities to gracefully bow out, but he fought back, frequently in print, and carried on with private funding, continuing his laboratory work in a Portakabin. He moved on to 'digital biology', demonstrating that the language of every molecule was a unique frequency. At the time of his death, a US firm was on the brink of taking up one of his patents.
Ironically, a man who challenged the very basis of biology died at the hands of medical orthodoxy - in every sense. The Nature scientific team have blood on their hands. The ridicule and shame tore out his heart.
During some of our final exchanges, he wrote to say that he was scratching around for funding to keep going. At one point, he had written to all the homoeopaths in France, asking if they would each send him just the equivalent of one patient's consultation fee. Just three bothered to respond.
If we wish to have a revolution in our medicine and in our thinking, then all of us need to be out there on the front line with the bravest soldiers like Jacques.